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"Rabbit Hole" explores universe without moving beyond cliches

"Rabbit Hole" is a movie about choices. It is about how even the most arbitrary decisions can destroy a life, how people choose different means to attain the same ends and how the universe chooses events for inexplicable reasons.

Becca (Nicole Kidman, nominated for a best leading actress Academy Award for the role) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) are grieving for their son in opposite ways: he with closeness, she with distance. A power struggle ensues through each of their neuroses. Becca tries to sell the family house and cleans obsessively to erase the memories of her son. Howie obsessively watches home videos and drags Becca to group therapy. She will have none of the group's religious mumbo jumbo — if God wanted another angel, she asks, "Why didn't he just make another angel? He's God!"

Instead, she seeks the company of the high school student who accidentally hit her son with his car. Rejecting the warmth and cushioning her husband seeks, Becca favors cold, hard facts. She wants causes, not reasons. When her son's remorseful killer presents a stunning art project about parallel universes, she finally finds a theory that satisfies her.

Disillusioned with a God who plays dice with the universe, Becca finds in science — or pseudoscience — a comfort that many find in religion. Rather than seeing her adversity as a crucial part of a grand plan, she sees it as a completely random event with many alternatives coexisting somewhere out there. There are infinite copies of her son elsewhere. She just happens to be experiencing the chance world where he dies.

Movies about such tragic loss work against themselves by trying to convey emotions most can't imagine unless they've been through similar experiences themselves. The plot line borders on cliche, and it can't help it. Some exhausted topics simply inhere in the theme: the existential crisis spurred by undeserved tragedy, the tension that death creates within a family, the faint light at the end of the tunnel of grief. These fortune cookie narratives seem profound and unique when experienced up close but terribly trite and vague from afar.

But I'll excuse this because it's a real part of the experience that could not be excluded. And that's something I generally appreciate director John Cameron Mitchell for: depicting realistic people, not cookie-cutter characters. This is often at the expense of the conventional Hollywood illusions that all people worth filming are just naturally glamorous, that normal lives belong in soap operas and that all relationships between men and women inevitably lead to romance.

Actually, "Rabbit Hole" was a bit disappointing with this last trope. A poignant platonic relationship forms between Howie and a woman in his grieving group. Then, it abruptly threatens to become an affair  — whether it actually does is unclear. They have no chemistry and no explanation besides his marital problems and her recent separation from her husband, which typically add up to adultery — at least if the equation plays out on screen.    

"Rabbit Hole" will be available on DVD April 19.


* * *

(Three out of five stars)

I'd recommend you go see it in three out of five parallel universes.


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